Terry Stewart explains the Rock Hall induction process

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum President, Terry Stewart, recently responded to a Duran Duran fan about why the band hadn't been inducted yet. The letter appears to be primarily a form letter, but it has been updated to include some interesting new information on the induction process.
Thanks for your comments. We receive literally thousands of emails every year like yours about hundreds of different artists. Consequently, part of this communication is a standard response as to how the induction process works. First of all, the only reason that Duran Duran have not been inducted is that they did not get enough votes to date to make the final ballot. OR, upon making the ballot, they did not get enough votes. There are no conspiracies and no one has veto power.
The Rock Hall has tried to convince everyone in recent years that Jann Wenner does not control the induction process nor is he even currently on the Nominating Committee. The rumors of bands being blackballed may have been true in the past, but don't seem to hold much water these days (e.g. Kiss was nominated this past year).
Please remember the following: Everyone personalizes everything about rock and roll when they are brought into the circle of discussion. This is another way of saying that many fans believe that their opinion is uniquely compelling and definitive. Without metrics (see below), the definition of "rock and roll," who is or was important, and who should be inducted is incredibly subjective.
Nice to hear them admit that it is in fact a subjective process.
As a result, our Nominating and Voting Committees are replete with Inductees (in fact, they are the largest bloc of voters). Someone has to decide, so we built our Voting Committee around the most qualified group possible: the living Inductees, which number around 400 at this time. Thus, folks like Bruce, Metallica, Clapton, Ozzy, Prince and the others are the difference makers. You may disagree, but being an Inductee makes a pretty good case for being the ones who choose.
There have been 234 artists inducted into the Rock Hall over the past 25 years (anyone know how many individuals total?). Subtract the deceased Hall of Famers, and Stewart puts the number of Hall of Fame voters at around 400. The Rock Hall sends out ballots to "more than 500 voters," so the voting really is dominated by Hall of Fame artists. While it's true that the majority of Voting Committee members are Hall of Famers, the 34-member Nominating Committee has just a handful of inductees as members, and they control who makes the final ballot.
With that overview, here’s how the process works. Nomination and induction into the Hall of Fame is not about popularity, records sales, which label the group is on, or anything other than the process below. Unlike baseball, football, basketball or hockey, statistics are not relevant. To be eligible for induction as an artist (as a performer, composer, or musician) into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the artist must have released a record, in the generally accepted sense of that phrase, at least 25 years prior to the year of induction; and have demonstrated unquestionable musical excellence. We shall consider factors such as an artist’s musical influence on other artists, length and depth of career and the body of work, innovation and superiority in style and technique, but musical excellence shall be the essential qualification for induction.
The often quoted criteria of "innovation and influence" may not be as important to the Nominating Committee as "unquestionable musical excellence" is, even though it's a much more subjective criteria.
Like it or not, the evaluation of these factors is highly subjective and can only be answered by the votes of our nominators and voters. In addition, even if an artist meets the influence/impact/innovation test, it doesn’t mean that they get inducted automatically. They still need to get the support of both Committees.
The hard part is getting nominated. The vast majority of artists who have been nominated eventually get inducted.
The entire nomination and induction process is coordinated by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation in New York City. Artists can be inducted in four categories: Performer, Early Influence, Non-Performer and Side-Men. The latter three are evaluated and decided by separate committees for each category.
[[ Leave those of us in Cleveland who run the Hall of Fame and Museum alone! It's those jerks in New York keeping your favorite band out, not us! ]]
Unlike the other three categories, the selection of Performers is a two-step process.

It begins with a Nominating Committee consisting of a diverse panel of living inductees, journalists, historians, noted musicians, industry heads, etc. In turn, those nominated are sent to a Voting Committee of about 600 people (all living inductees, journalists, historians, music industry management, musicians, etc.) around the world who vote. That said, candidates are reviewed and discussed relative to their impact, innovation and influence on this music that we broadly define as rock and roll. Gold records, number one hits, and million sellers are not appropriate standards for evaluation. Those receiving the highest number of votes and more than 50% of the votes cast are inducted into the Hall. Usually, this means five to seven new performing members each year.

This last paragraph seems out of date. The Rock Hall now predetermines how many inductees there will be each year, and therefore artists don't necessarily need more than 50% of the vote to get in.
Having said all this, I believe that all worthy candidates will be inducted, just not always when they or their fans deem timely. This phenomenon is not unique to us. The sports halls of fame have had many great stars that do not get inducted in their early years of eligibility or for many years to come.

Peace & Soul,

Rock & Roll!

Terry Stewart


Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum

Comment on this story over on the Induction Criteria page.
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